Pressing Story: ‘Hot Fuss,’ box-sets and bootlegs

News / Special Features / September 29, 2016

On Oct. 21, Hot Fuss, the near-iconic 2004 debut album from The Killers, will finally be reissued onto vinyl. For many, this one’s a major white whale, and it’s not difficult to see why. For those retaining faith in rock ‘n’ roll, Hot Fuss was likely one of those key, reinforcing moments of the 2000s, and in a lot of ways, 2004 was arguably the last year where it seemed like mainstream rock music really mattered. It was the year Hot Fuss broke four singles on the charts; the year Green Day came back from the dead with American Idiot; the year Franz Ferdinand served up one of the all-time great debut singles; and the year Modest Mouse, of all bands, landed an earworm radio hit.

For all these reasons, it’s bizarre that Hot Fuss has never, until now, been readily available on vinyl. And yet, here it is, the preorder for a new reissue, with a completely affordable mark of $16.99. Actually, for anyone who’s ever considered buying a version of this album on vinyl — whether from eBay or Discogs— that price isn’t just affordable, but a revelation. On Discogs, the prices have ranged from $100 on the low end to $300 on the high end — for legit copies, at least. You’ll find similar prices on eBay. If we’re talking about the 2005, 7″ box set — of which only 5,000 copies were produced worldwide — prices can jump all the way to $350. Suffice it to say, if you’ve been waiting to own this record on wax, your time has finally come.

Hot Fuss and the Journey to Your Record Collection

The obvious question here is…why did it take so long? Clearly, there is and always has been demand for Hot Fuss on vinyl. The Killers remain one of the biggest bands in rock music. Their as-yet-unannounced fifth album — supposedly on the way this year, and at least partially co-written by Sir Elton John — will surely garner plenty of coverage and launch yet another massive world tour. Frontman Brandon Flowers has released two solo albums — 2010’s Flamingo and last year’s The Desired Effect — the second of which won him some renewed cred from the hipster contingent. “Mr. Brightside” nearly led a Cinderella story victory when Grantland did a bracket to decide the millennium’s best song a few years back. (The Grantland staff was hilariously confused.) Even the group’s second record, the heavily Bruce Springsteen-influenced Sam’s Town, has been retroactively labeled as a masterpiece by many music listeners — despite the fact it got torn apart upon its release for leaving behind their Vegas glitz. Somehow, that sophomore record turns 10 years old later this year and is up for its own reissue.

Still, while Sam’s Town has grown more appreciated with age — a statement that could also probably be applied to 2008’s Day & Age and 2012’s Battle Born Hot Fuss remains the band’s definitive statement. It’s the album that will be labeled a classic 20 or 30 years down the road, when music journalists review the early 2000s and try to assess which albums mattered. It has the songs — “Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” — that will probably still be the band’s signatures (give or take a “When You Were Young”) when they get to their U2-esque elder statesmen phase. Yet, when the album’s 10-year anniversary rolled around in 2014, it was not accompanied by a widespread vinyl reissue.

This October will finally afford many of us the opportunity to purchase it without having to forego groceries for a week. But a glance at the Discogs page for Hot Fuss makes it look like the album should already be easily available on wax. Indeed, of the 76 different versions of Hot Fuss listed on the user-built music database, 16 of them are vinyl. A closer look, though, reveals something odd: only three of those releases list Island Records as label of note behind the release. (Island was The Killers’ label in 2004 and still is today.) The rest came from either The Control Group (an independent label based in Brooklyn) or Lizard King Records (an independent label based in London). Or they came from a bootlegger claiming to be Lizard King Records. There are more twists in this tale than that of an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Here’s the narrative: in 2004, Island Records evidently signed away the rights to press Hot Fuss to The Control Group and Lizard King, respectively. The Killers were even bigger in the United Kingdom than they were in the United States—to the point where a lot of people thought they were a British band for awhile. As a result, it probably made sense to have a local London-based company handling the vinyl distribution for the record. Vinyl was also something of a footnote back in 2004, so Island and the Universal Music Group probably had bigger fish to fry than planning a wide release pressing for an unproven rock band’s debut album.

Chris Brown from Bull Moose (who we reached out to for this story) put it this way: “2004 was before the vinyl resurgence, so licensing out was more common then. Universal was the last of the majors to get on board anyhow. It might not have been until 2009 or even 2010 that they started cranking out the reissues.”

The Control Group and Lizard King pressings, then — as limited as they are — are the closest thing Hot Fuss has to a genuine “original” vinyl edition.

The Plot Thickens

After Hot Fuss blew up, Island Records celebrated both the record’s mass success and the popularity of the B-sides by releasing the 7″ box set. An 11-disc collection, this set split all 11 of the album’s cuts up onto separate vinyl singles. The album tracks were the A-sides for each single. The outtakes, meanwhile, were the literal B-sides. Most of those outtakes (including gems like “Under the Gun,” “Who Let You Go,” and “The Ballad of Michael Valentine”) would later find a home on The Killers’ 2007 odds and ends collection, Sawdust. Bizarrely, that album got a non-limited vinyl pressing right out of the gate.

Island would release another Hot Fuss pressing in 2009 — this one in standard 12-inch format — as part of a limited edition box set that included a t-shirt. Other than this set, though, the other Hot Fuss vinyl editions that were pressed after 2005 were all unauthorized bootlegs. A company claiming to be Lizard King Records flooded the market with these bootlegs in 2011 and then did a few more in 2013. If you’ve ever seen an affordable copy of Hot Fuss on eBay, chances are it was one of these.

The bootlegs came in a variety of different colors, including smoke, clear turquoise, and green. They look nice enough, but sound like shit, according to most sources. Among Discogs users who have paid money for these unofficial copies, one said the center hole is too small for standard turntables, while another said that side two has whole sections of audio missing. Talk about a nightmare. I fortunately read comments such as these — as well as other chatter around the web — before buying one of those bootlegs a few years ago. Thanks, internet.

May the “Real” Version of Hot Fuss Please Stand Up?

The other wrinkle with the Hot Fuss vinyl is that, because there were different tracklistings for the U.K. and American versions of the album, the different pressings also tend to vary in which tracks they include. Here in the states, track eight has always been “Change Your Mind” — easily the cheeriest song on a record that includes two parts of a “murder trilogy” and a song about Eric Roberts sleeping with your girlfriend. Across the pond, track eight is the similarly anthemic “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” It’s not entirely difficult to see why the band didn’t just include both of these songs on the original version of the record. For one, they have similar vibes. For another, both are significantly brighter and more positive than what is largely a record built for neon lights and Vegas nights. Still, both are much, much better than Hot Fuss‘s dreadfully boring closing track, “Everything Will Be Alright.” In a perfect world, “Change Your Mind” would be track eight and “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll” would be the album’s triumphant finale.

Depending on which version of the vinyl record you have (or hope to purchase), track eight could be occupied by either of these two songs. Unsurprisingly, the original Control Group pressings have “Change Your Mind” at track eight, while the original Lizard King pressings have “Indie Rock & Roll.” (“Indie Rock and Roll” actually does appear on the Control Group pressing, but is tacked on the end as a bonus track.) The 2005 box set includes both songs on disc eight, but “Change Your Mind” is tellingly given the A-side, deferring to the U.S. tracklisting as the prototype. The 2009 limited edition reissue also includes “Change Your Mind.” As for all of the fake Lizard King bootlegs, they mirror the original Lizard King tracklist, with “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll” at track eight and “Change Your Mind” nowhere to be found.

When the new reissue for Hot Fuss was announced, it looked like the consensus for what constituted the album’s “real” tracklist was going to change again. Early reports noted that the pressing was coming from Virgin EMI, which meant that it was going to be a British release and would include “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” For awhile, it looked like this pressing was the reissue for the year, not just in the U.K., but in the United States as well. Such rumors were only stoked further when SRC became one of the first sites to list the reissue for preorder in the U.S. SRC’s page for the Hot Fuss vinyl release showed the British version of the tracklisting, suggesting that “Indie Rock & Roll” was in and “Change Your Mind” was out.

As it turns out, SRC’s listing is just a fluke, probably the result of a quick copy-and-past job. Chris Brown at Bull Moose has confirmed that 1) there are different reissues of Hot Fuss for the United Kingdom and the United States, and 2) “Change Your Mind” will indeed be featured as the U.S. reissue’s Side B, Track 3. Hallelujah.

All of this worrying about tracklists got me to asking the big question: which version of Hot Fuss is the real version? Which version is the better version? Your answers to those questions will probably differ depending on which you heard first. The Killers are an American band, so it stands to reason that the U.S. version of their album would take precedent over other versions in the “which is real?” argument. But The Killers have always had special ties with United Kingdom fans, so maybe the U.K. version of the album is the definitive one.

“And If the Answer Is ‘No,’ Can I Change Your Mind?”

For a bit, it looked like the new vinyl repress was finally going to settle the argument in favor of “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” That would have been a shame, because “Change Your Mind” is, conservatively, the sixth best song on Hot Fuss. It’s tough to argue against the first five-track run of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Somebody Told Me,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Make a list of the 10 best mainstream rock singles of the 2000s, and at least three of those songs have to be there. (On the new pressings, this bulletproof run of five songs makes up the entirety of Side A.) But “Change Your Mind” has easily the best melody of any of the songs in the record’s second half, adding some much-needed momentum to the proceedings. “Andy You’re a Star,” “On Top,” and “Believe Me Natalie” are all decent songs, but having “Change Your Mind” in there almost single-handedly earns Hot Fuss classic status instead of “five great songs and a bunch of filler” status.

It almost would have made sense to have a U.S. vinyl reissue of this album with “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll,” because The Killers have always had a weird streak when it comes to vinyl. Hot Fuss was never readily available until now; Sam’s Town is everywhere, but has only been available in a not-very-attractive picture disc format for years; a new Sam’s Town reissue will change that fact this fall, but only for 5,016 people; and Day & Age is rare and out of print — frequently going for more than $100 online, despite its reputation as easily the worst Killers record. It would have been strangely fitting to finally get Hot Fuss on wax, but have it still not be the same exact record that many of us grew up with. Luckily, it looks like the U.S. repressing is the actual U.S. version of the album. Now I just have to start campaigning for a pressing where “Everything Will Be Alright” gets cut, “Indie Rock & Roll” closes the record, and “Under the Gun” plays between “On Top” and “Change Your Mind.” Don’t worry: I’m not holding my breath.


Tags: ,

Craig Manning
Craig cares entirely too much about music, specifically that of Bruce Springsteen. He was a Senior Editor at AbsolutePunk.net (RIP) and is now a regular contributor at Chorus.fm. He loves folk, country, and rock 'n' roll.






You might also like